Residents poo-stricken

Liso Cengimbo, 10, and his younger brother, Esona, 3, stand on the steps of their home in Zone 25, in Langa. Their home is one of many that have been surrounded by filthy water and poo for more than a month.

Residents of Zone 25 in Langa, are engaged in a battle with the City of Cape Town to have their sewer fixed and human excrement surrounding their hostels removed.

Since the beginning of the year, residents say, they have tried in vain to have their concerns addressed. They are now worried that the situation could turn into a health nightmare, and lead to the outbreak of airborne diseases.

When Vukani visited the area on Thursday February 9, a ring of toxic green water and human waste fenced their homes. Green flies, in some instances as big as bees, made the visit an unpleasant one.

An unbearable stench from the water made breathing an awkward exercise.

However, for residents this is their daily experience and they say their pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears. Instead, they claim, they have had to deal with unscrupulous City officials, who demand payment for any work they are called out to do. They also accused Ward 52 councillor Samkelo John of being “useless”.

A visibly angry Nowangile Cengimbo, 71, said since they moved into the hostels in 2008, they have had endless problems. The hostels were built and completed in 2008 as part of government’s Langa Hostel Transformation programme.

They replaced the old hostels used by migrant workers during apartheid. But for the Zone 25 community, the hostels brought only temporary joy.

“This is the worst. It is over a month now,” said Ms Cengimbo, who shares a house with her children and grandchildren.

She feels like their freedom has been taken away. “It is actually scary. We cannot even open the windows and our doors,” she said. “Things get worse in the night. Everything gets blocked and the water comes out of the toilet and the bath. We breath in faeces.”

Ms Cengimbo said they have given up hope and embraced their plight.

“They (council) are good at collecting rent money, but are never there when we need them. The councillor is useless. He only takes pictures,” she said.

Another resident, Mbambezeli Ngcenge, 64, believes the problem would have been addressed a while ago had it happened in a “white community”. “We don’t sleep at night. If you sleep you get wet, and faeces gets everywhere,” he said.

“We only get to sleep in the morning.”

Mr Ngcenge’s major concern is the impact this could have on children. He says it is difficult to prevent them from playing in the dirt, which exposes them to serious illnesses.

“It is much better for us because we know what is going on, but for the children it is a different story. They play in the water and the loo around here,” he says.

Another challenge, he said, was cooking and eating. “It is so difficult to eat under these circumstances. Sometimes you just think of what is here and you vomit,” he said.

Mr John, however, denied claims that he did not care, arguing that he had lodged complaints on behalf of the affected families, on a number of occasions.

He said he had registered no fewer than 10 cases and blamed the officials for failing to carry out their work. “It is unfortunate that people do not call me when they (officials) arrive,” he said.

Mr John said he planned to escalate the matter to the mayoral committee member for utility services. “But I have not done that just yet,” he said.

The City of Cape Town said the matter had been investigated by its housing maintenance and water and sanitation management departments and “found that there is no problem with the sewer line on the property. It is in working order.”

“In this case, the overflow was the result of a blocked main sewer line in Fort Calata Road,” the City said in a statement to the media.

The City added that such blockages were caused by the disposal of “inappropriate objects into the sewer system.”

But a Vukani investigation on Tuesday February 14 revealed that the workers were, in fact, still on site trying to sort out the problem. Some of the broken pipes were still leaking, discharging raw sewage into the streets.